Ethical fashion vs label

Fashion details often make difference. Colours, prints, a particolaur style. But what do we know about a garment label?

Does it make you able to figure out the production chain hidden behind a probable global product?

  • Who, where and how has been manufactured the item we are going to buy?
  • How many phases have been taken from raw materials to manufacturing and distribution, and finally to end consumers?

Today clothing labels usually must report:

  • Manufacturer, importer, distributor or brand name
  • Fabric fiber composition in percentage
  • Maintenance instructions

Any other information about production phases or fiber quality is merely optional.

In the absence of an international regulation able to show the effective observance of labour, wealth, environment and safety conventions, market has been organized producing social and environmental self-certification tools.

We are talking about codes of conduct: ethical standards or certifications born with the intent of declaring to consumers social and enviroment behaviour conformity. Shall consumers trust them?

Towards transparency: auditing and certifications

Firstly, to distrust unilateral corporate declarations is recommended. If stakeholders debate (workers, trade union, NGOs, communities and local authorities, who are all subject to company positive or negative behaviours) is missing, it is impossible to verify reality and any certification has a concrete value.

Gears

As regards international production chains and certifications, the key point is to identify supervisory entities about labour fundamental concerns (decent wage, gender discrimination, freedom of trade union association, precariousness of contracts).

Auditing: a multistakeholder solution

In order to remedy commercial auditing systems structural gaps, multistakeholder experiences have emerged. The aim is to entrust monitoring and auditing tasks to independent third-party organizations, as alternative to the growing business of social inspections, which is not suitable because of its commercial nature and dependence on contractor.

As concerns multistakeholder solutions, Fair Wear Foundation has the more advanced experience in European textile industry.
Ethical Trade Initiative and Fair Labour Association are respectively English and American institutions.

What alternative to mainstream trade?

How to orient?
Fair trade movement has been the first to retrain relationships between North and South. CEeS has created economic partnerships to support small producers development, giving access to North markets to their products with prices which are fair towards producers and trasparent towards consumers, through pre-financing and other support forms intended for local communities.

Besides products coming from Italian fair trade organizations, Fairtrade Italia certified products are on market.

This brand declares to respect fair trade criteria as regards agriculture, certifying that garment cotton is 100% fair trade cotton, GMO free. Fairtrade certified cotton involves methods of Integrated Pest Management.

Products coming from fair trade (or Fairtrade certified products) range from clothing to underwear, shoes and accessories. They come from long chains if we consider a geographic point of view (Asia, Africa, Latin America), but they are based on close cooperation.

Sustainable fashion

Moreover, there are green, eco-friendly products, developed in order to reduce ecological footprint, using rigorously natural organic fabrics, treated with natural dyes, as the aim is to reduce non-recyclable waste.

If a product is certified organic, it means it concerns the whole chain. It involves the maximum containment of sintetic and chemical products use, by adopting organic products and alternative production processes where possible, to minimize impact on people and environment.

Organic certification means no pesticides, no dangerous chemical fertilizers and GMO free. During manifacturing process no harmful chemical substances are used, alkalines are recycled and not released in water and all waste is treated.

Second hand and vintage fashion is a good alternative too: it originates in in the 60s, when hippies and protesters first had the idea to creatively revisit old clothes coming from local markets.
Vintage clothing and accessories can be found in in specialized stores, street markets and exhibitions. Often they are collected, processed and reconditioned by social cooperatives.
Barter is a good practice too, present in Italy thanks to specialized exhibitions and self-managed exchange initiatives.

Vintage

Ethical fashion: how many choices in summary?

Fair trade

Agices (Italian fair trade general association) fair trade accredited organizations display their products at specialized stores or online.

Short production chain

Short chains, solidarity chains, social cooperation chains. They enhance local production, employment of vulnerable people, social rehabilitation in prison, self-management, recovered and unionized companies.

Multistakeholder

Garments coming from companies involved in multistakeholder auditing initiatives as for example Fair Wear Foundation, Ethical Trade Initiative, or Social Accountability.

Textile

Voluntary labels

Voluntary eco-labels certified garments such as::

Natural

Natural and organic fiber garments, treated with organic or low environmental impact dyes. In case product certification is missing, make sure at least raw material is certified.

Recycled

Garments manufactured by companies adopting virtuous policies as regarding energy efficiency, waste cycle management, recycling and reuse of materials practices, packaging concerns.

Vintage/Second Hand

Garments and accessories rigorously used, but unmistakable rétro styled.

Cruelty Free

Garments obtained without animal cruelty and without using components tested on animals.

Insights

Deborah Lucchetti – I vestiti nuovi del consumatore. Guida ai vestiti solidali, biologici, recuperati: per conciliare estetica ed etica nel proprio guardaroba. Altreconomia Edizioni

The price of free (film)